Classics and Religious Studies, Department of


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Published in ACADEME 95:5 (September-October 2009), pp. 34-35. Copyright © 2009 American Association of University Professors


The referee system in scholarly publishing offers us many benefits and also carries with it attendant problems. The problems need to be addressed. Referees are arguably the linchpins of academic scholarship: they do the heavy lifting for editors, they provide editors with vicarious expertise, and they monitor the gateway to publication and thus to tenure and promotion. Their presence in the editorial process is the guarantee to deans and program directors that scholarship is scholarship. Referees are also, however, the bottleneck of the publication system. Dilatory or slothful referees idly and thoughtlessly put careers on hold.

The system needs changing. People with this much power should be trained. The only requirement for referees is the trust of an editor that the referee is knowledgeable in the subject area. Referee selection parallels the old way of publication where, as recently as the 1970s, authors were published because they knew the editors. In publication, of course, there has been a (mostly) salubrious change. This change has not yet befallen the selection of the referee. Everyone who does it is an amateur at it, and, too often, it shows.

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